COVID-19 has significantly changed how we live our lives. Parents are burdened with worry about becoming ill, caring for children at home and paying the bills. For families already living paycheck to paycheck, the toll of COVID-19 will have ripple effects for months to come. The impact of this stress will continue to weigh on our children – from a toddler who doesn’t understand why he can’t hug grandma to a high schooler missing her graduation ceremony.
Recovery won’t be quick, even as the state’s stay-home order lifts. As a pediatrician, I am particularly concerned for the health of families this summer and their ability to access quality health care. There are two key actions Idaho leaders can take to better support the health and financial recovery of families struggling: protect Medicaid budgets from cuts and open enrollment on the health insurance exchange.
First, Idaho must exempt Medicaid from any budget cuts.
Medicaid expansion could not have been implemented at a better time, as the program is one of the most vital tools to protect families during a public health crisis. It is providing temporary relief for families who have recently lost job-based health coverage until they can get back on their feet. Medicaid provides checkups, specialist doctor visits, prescriptions, COVID-19 testing, treatment and telehealth services. What’s more, Medicaid prevents families from going bankrupt due to medical bills for unforeseen sicknesses.
With state revenues down, Governor Little is exploring cuts in every state agency budget – Medicaid is not yet exempt. For every dollar cut from Idaho’s Medicaid budget, we stand to lose $2.37 in federal funding. Any cuts to the Medicaid budget would mean cuts to the benefits and services our families need most right now. Together, let’s keep Medicaid strong.
Second, Idaho should open enrollment on the health insurance exchange.
Prior to the coronavirus, Idaho saw about 1,000 unemployment claims per month. In just the past eight weeks, there have been close to 131,000 claims. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Urban Institute recently released a report showing that Idaho stands to see approximately 99,000 people lose employer-sponsored health coverage this spring and summer – a trend that is especially alarming during a public health crisis.
Unfortunately, Idaho’s health insurance exchange, Your Health Idaho, is the only state-based marketplace in the nation that has not opened an emergency enrollment period. Opening an emergency enrollment period would allow for the widest possible umbrella of coverage, giving struggling Idaho families the opportunity to either enroll in public insurance (i.e. Medicaid) or purchase private insurance with a premium assistance.
Given the health and economic impacts Idahoans are experiencing as a result of this pandemic, immediate action must be taken to provide as many avenues as possible for families to secure and maintain affordable health coverage. I implore Idaho leaders to take these two actions as a first line defense against this crisis and to protect the health and well-being of our children and their families.